September 17th is Constitution Day in the United States. Since it’s not a national holiday in the outdoor BBQ sense, it will probably not be on anyone’s radar.
And that’s a shame.
In all of recorded history, are there any documents that rise above the U.S. Constitution in its impact on human freedom? Perhaps a few…but in the family photo of such things, our Constitution is in the first row, front and center.
Civic literacy is something we associate with the social studies curriculum in primary and secondary school. Based on statistics gleaned from just about every poll and survey in the public domain, civics—government, history, etc.—is something perhaps learned, but quickly forgotten.
According to the Civic Mission of Schools web site (http://www.civicmissionofschools.org), the numbers reflecting the adult population’s understanding of basic American civics is less a report and more of an indictment. One-third of Americans could name all three branches of the federal government; one-third couldn't name any. Only 47 percent of Americans know that a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court carries the same weight as a 9-0 decision.
Not yet worried about the future of our democracy? In mid-term elections (when
the presidency is not on the ballot), turnout has not broken 50 percent for the past 16 cycles.
What is the foundation of this apathy? Is it the polarization of our political discourse in general? The busy lives of people as they go about their daily business? The weather? All or none of the above?
Or, sadly, is it weakness in civic literacy education? A sense of civic responsibility is best planted when our children are surrounded by smart teachers who inculcate the benefits of knowing how our system of government works, how it was constructed, and why men and women have fought and died to preserve it.
The Simon Youth Foundation is dedicated to working with our schools and ancillary organizations to raise the level of civic awareness among our students. Through an increased understanding and enthusiasm about the role of citizens in government, we hope to make civic literacy a point of pride.
Our nation is passing through one of its greatest periods of trial in our 238-year history. We need everyone—regardless of income or education level—to pay attention to the currents of democracy.
While rising to the occasion has always been a hallmark of the American people, we cannot rely on this phenomenon as a means of addressing the critical problems of our country and its future. The civic responsibility inherent in the freedoms we all enjoy demands a literacy rate far above our current standards.
For more on Constitution Day, please visit http://www.constitutionday.com. For more information about civic literacy, including access to national resources and research, please visit http://civicliteracy.iupui.edu.